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Show HN: iPG - YC Interview Simulator (jamescun.com)
290 points by jamescun on Apr 27, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 77 comments

To prepare for demo day, I've decided to use iPG with M-x doctor (she's from a small, not widely known country that has some native naming eccentricites and is in constant war with their two lettered neighbors), the CEO at my new health startup Psychologr. Obviously I'm the technical cofounder and she's the ideas person, so I let her do the talking.


iPG: Who might become competitors?

M-x doctor: What do you think?

iPG: How big an opportunity is there?

M-x doctor: I'll ask the questions, if you don't mind!

iPG: What do you understand that others don't?

M-x doctor: Can you elaborate on that?

iPG: Why will you succeed?

M-x doctor: I could ask the same thing myself.

iPG: Who would be your next hire?

M-x doctor: I would appreciate it if you would allow me to do the questioning.

iPG: Would you relocate to Silicon Valley?

M-x doctor: Why do you say?

iPG: How much does customer acquisition cost?

M-x doctor: I have asked myself that question many times.


So, the tactic seems to be stay firm, and let him know who's asking the questions.

Can we have our money now?

If someone's looking for a fun, kind of silly weekend hack, I've always thought it would be lots of fun to feed PG's essays and comments into Megahal or something like that that is more advanced than M-x doctor.

Incidentally, Hailo is in pretty much every way a much better Megahal (esp. when your text corpus is large): http://search.cpan.org/~hinrik/Hailo-0.70/bin/hailo

The person who is perhaps the brightest [1] person I've ever met would - if this is a fair simulation - be rejected by YC. When answering a question he often won't even have begun to reply after fifteen seconds. I wonder how often YC rejects people such as that.

[1] I mean this in a particular way: capable of extraordinarily deep insight very, very rapidly. Just not 15 seconds rapid.

This page really has a different lesson than what you think. The lesson is not "respond quickly"; that only shows that you can think on your feet. While that's useful, you don't build a business by thinking on your feet. The real lesson is that you should have already answered these questions. Before you try to get funding, you should already know who's going to use your product. Before you launch, you should know who your competitors are. Before talking to anyone you don't know about your product, you should be able to describe your product quickly.

You're trying to convince YC to invest in you. Why would anyone want to give money to founders who haven't thought about these questions?

Right - none of these questions are difficult to answer quickly and concisely or to prepare for - if you have a valid business model. Applying for investment without a business model you understand through and through is like applying for a job without a resume.

So do you disagree with the questions or technique/method?

If the questions were better or more relevant would it help you?

what are your feelings on this method of reversal?

Oh no don't get me wrong - the site is great and I expect it'd be very useful for any entrepreneur, whether seeking investment or not! I'm commenting on the GP's post, which implies some people aren't capable of answering questions this quickly because they have a different mental processing style.

The reality is they need to realise they're approaching people with little free time who have to quickly sort the wheat from the chaff, and asking basic, targeted business model questions like these are a fair way of doing so.

These types of questions aren't meant to make any sort of statement about the person's worth; they are there to determine (a) if the person, at this point in time, is investable as an entrepreneur at the most basic level, i.e. do they understand the basics of business, and have they done their homework with respect to their business; and (b) whether the results of that homework suggest a business potentially worth investing in.

A person with positive scores on both these accounts would be able to easily answer these questions in the time allocated. For the remainder, either they don't have a viable business model (fail at (b)), or they aren't familiar with business (fail at (a)), and that's why the site is valuable -- it gives the latter experience validating their business model before the pitch, which may otherwise cost them a missed investment opportunity.

(That being said I didn't like some questions: "Tell us something surprising you have done" or "What's the funniest thing that has happened to you." Have a few beers with me and all kinds of stories will come out, but I don't have a reverse lookup for my experiences -- my mind goes blank when I'm asked questions like these! That being said, it's good to be aware they might be asked, and to at least prepare in some way to respond.)

Okay. Thanks for the clarity.

So the actual rehearsal process would be beneficial? Maybe without a timer?

Yes, and keep the timer! It's a critical aspect of evaluating whether your answer is solid.

Yes of course, the 15 seconds is not a particularly valid method, however the intention was to try and make you think on your feet and keep your answers concise.

I don't think he would be rejected, at least not for slowness of thought. If he were applying to YC with an idea he had thought about deeply, the answers to the questions in this simulation would be mere cache lookups, requiring negligible CPU. Only in the case of a cache miss would he have to think very much, and even then one or two cache misses probably wouldn't be enough to sink his application, especially considering how good the YC partners are at detecting deep intelligence.

Maybe you have academia in mind. What makes you think business requires extraordinarily deep insight?

When talking to PG and the other YC partners, be substantive, and get straight to the point.

DO NOT BEAT AROUND THE BUSH. Do not hem and haw. "Uhm"s and "uh"s don't lend an aura of intelligence.

Use precise and concise language. You aren't pitching a VC that will ask you what your "secret sauce" is.

He talks quickly, and so do the other YC partners. Try to match their tempo (as you should when talking to anyone).

Does anybody else find it ironic that pg uses an abnormally high amount of filler words himself?

Not in person, and not during the YC dinners.

So these seem to be low stress situations for him, unlike public speaking. YC interviews are obviously high-stress for the founders though.

Having a well thought through business plan is the main thing, the filler words are a secondary issue.

Obviously someone with a solid business plan who speaks cautiously is in a much better position than a smooth talker who is selling vaporware. That's the value of the YC group, they have their priorities determined and they don't get taken for a ride.

Was this during a pitch or informal setting?

For must formal presentations the audience expect clear and concise responses. One should be forgiven for "filling" during a public speech or informal chat.

I find your claim odd, since I've always found his public speaking very competent.

I won't disagree that he is competent, but at the YC talk in New York, his public speaking was filled with filler sounds where it seemed he was nervous to talk in front of a large group of people (even if that was not the case).

Not sure if you've already seen this, but he wrote about his thoughts on speaking and writing [1]. He does admit that he isn't the best public speaker but puts more value in content rather than presentation in these situations.

[1] http://paulgraham.com/speak.html

This sounds like MBA advice and is good, general business practice, however highly intelligent people capable of extraordinary things often do not act in accordance with these rules (likely because they are PHDs and not MBA students). I imagine this stuff is only on the surface and PG and others are able to evaluate the depth of a person and what they are truly capable of (or maybe not I've never met them).

> Try to match their tempo (as you should when talking to anyone).

That's stupid advice. Why should I always match my tempo to somebody else?

I'm not going to adapt to your talking speed for the same reason that you're probably not going to try to match mine. I'm not your monkey.

Because you want to persuade them? When you speak someone's language, using similar posture, vocabulary, style, and being attentive and tuned into them, they're more likely to react positively and buy what you're selling.


That's stupid advice. Why should I always match my tempo to somebody else?

Because it's an important element of building rapport. And rapport is important if you want to get someone on "your side" in a discussion.

for the same reason that you're probably not going to try to match mine

But people usually do just that. It's a fairly well established thing, that people in a conversation usually eventually match each other's talking pace. And it generally feels awkward when you're talking to someone and that doesn't happen.

The word "should" is ambiguous. Here it doesn't mean some kind of moral duty, but just that you'll generally have better results.

Added. Thanks.

No, thank you! This is an excellent idea, sir, and good luck!

Heh, I thought my team was the only one that made this kind of thing before interviews. This one's got much better content than ours though; thanks for sharing!

For those like me who are curious what the RNG missed, here's the data list:


Why do your team use this approach?

Does it improve your performance? If yes, why and how? What do you do better in the actual pitch?

Are you guys affiliated with http://www.backblaze.com?

If not, you should change your logo and website design fast. Possibly your name too.

We are not affiliated in any way. We have come across them before and we feel the name and market is different enough to not be a problem. As for the logo, it's kinda difficult to make a fire (as in, blaze) look different.

Our name story is that, our original project name was just "stack" but stack.com was taken. After struggling for a new name, a historic chimney stack local to us caught fire and the newspaper headline was "Stack Blaze".

IANAL, but I have had to deal with trademark issues and as I understand trademark law you would be considered to be in exactly the same market. The difference between, say, pet food and hosting would be considered relevant, not between storing backups and storing PHP websites.

Also, regardless of whether you did so or not, the logo really does look like a slightly masked copy. Do an image search for "blaze" to see a number of possible treatments on that theme that would not result in such a resemblance.

I am less sure about the name, but the difference is swapping "b" with "st", so I wouldn't be surprised if that would also be considered trademark infringement.

Anyway, it depends how you understand "not a problem"; You might feel morally justified, but I believe that legally you are on pretty shaky grounds. On the other hand, Backblaze would have to kick up a fuss for that to actually matter.

Logo and name, yes. Website design? I see two generic landing pages; they all look alike these days.

Holy macro! This is like a never-ending interrogation! But one hell of a good one, nonetheless. Great piece of stuff James and iPG! Should help out a ton of interviewees.

Given the nature of this conversation, I'll throw in a gratuitous plug for "pgbot" a half-baked "AIML implementation of pg" that I cooked up one night in response to something somebody said here (or on #startups).


It might be fun to get some other people to fork that and start making it "smarter."

Press N

Several times in a row

Wow, you found that fast.

Are you suggesting that this is in some sense the answer to all the questions?

It probably would at least have the distinction of being an answer that pg/YCombinator had never heard before...

Where's the rocket science here?

He applies next round and gets an interview. He surreptitiously brings a boom box. When asked what it’s for, he says “please, hold your questions till the end of the interview”. After all of the questions have been asked and answered, he slams play and rips off his shirt to reveal that he’s been covered in strawberry Pop-Tarts and rainbow Spandex the whole time.

Verily, this is the hacker equivalent of professionalism.

It's quite visible in the source :P

If all else fails, apply Nyan cat

Are questions such as "How will you make money?" answerable in 15 seconds? I tried it with my personal concept, and even with trying to remain concise and to the point, I can't answer that question without it becoming a string of words that would not pass as a sentence.


It is likely you fall into one or more of these.

"We're depending on user aggregation to drive advertising revenues initially, but hope to move to move into white label SaaS as we develop our platform." would be a good 15 second answer.

If it takes longer than 10 seconds you don't have the right answer.

Wow! This is exactly what we have been playing around with. The tool looks really good.

Is this something you are looking to take further?

What has been the feedback in terms of usefulness? Do users this this type of mock interview works?

Have you done any research or analysis on the effectiveness?

Thanks. We put it together in a couple of hours for our own purposes and a bit if fun. A YC alumni suggested we put it out here. It's great that it's helping other folks.

Take a look at this great list of questions too by Francis Dierick who created an iPhone app too. http://fr.anc.is/2012/01/21/top-100-startup-questions/

Thanks for sharing this Colin, I originally wanted to do something more fun & pg-like for the iPhone as well but I decided against doing fancy stuff in favor of actually prepping for the interview. I actually only published the app to the AppStore quite a bit after our interview.

The speed of question makes it more like RPG than iPG

(*) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocket-propelled_grenade

Clever and fun!

Please fix the misspelling though... "quick, consice [sic] answers"

Love it! It helped me a lot before my interview ;)

Great to know it helped you today. Best of luck.

Any way to make this a generic tool? Would love to be able to use this with my own questions for other purposes.

It's completely static and javascript, so just download all the files (index.html, functions.js, data.js and style.css) and edit the array in data.js.

Thanks for sharing!

This is both stimulating and depressing at the same time. As if there's only one correct way of thinking and communicating. Why conform yourself to someone else's nature? You're not Steve Jobs, and you're not pg, you are yourself -- forget the pro-tip and be yourself.

You can be yourself after you've spent 3 to 5 minutes getting through these questions qualifying yourself as somebody worthwhile getting to know better. Investors are busy people with thousands of proposals crossing their paths every year - they need a quick way to disqualify the proposals that haven't been thought through properly.

Forgetting the questions and answers, do you think the practice would make you perform better?

ie is there any value with this approach?

...however, there is also a “separate application track for groups that don't have an idea yet”


I don't like the timing effect, but I believe that those are super important questions to ask yourself before attending an interview (be it for/at YC or somewhere else)

Record the person's response!

Would be great if you could replay each of your responses at the end to see if you sounded horrible (or good).

I have some good engrish for you today: What resistance will they have to trying you and how will you overcome it?

This is pretty clever. Well done guys.

Well done.

I'd like to see some more pro tips!

We're using this right now to prepare for our interview. Nice work guys!

Seems to require a keyboard so not usable on iPad.

Link seems to be down. Anyone got a mirror?

it would be nice if sample answers could be recorded and votes recorded, pushing higher score responses up..

Love it, good luck guys!



You can expect to be banned shortly.

Now I really want to know what he/she said...

Me too.

Link to some presumably spam site and nothing else. Don't know, didn't follow.

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